Publication Date: June 5, 2012
In The Skeleton Box by Bryan Gruley, Gus Carpenter has been back in his hometown of Starvation Lake working for the local paper for a few years when a rash of robberies breaks out. It seems that the hits always happen on bingo night when the targets aren’t home and nothing is taken … until the night the burglar hits the home of Gus’s mother. Gus’s mom and her best friend have skipped bingo and the burglar surprises them and kills the friend. Gus’ mom has secrets about another murder she’s kept for years and is sure she’s next. Gus must find the killer before he or she strikes again.
The Skeleton Box: A Starvation Lake Mystery is the third novel in the Starvation Lake series.
Have you ever been at a rock concert where the artist shouts out about the coffee he got at some small local place earlier in the day in your hometown and a thrill goes through you because this famous person was where you might have been? The Starvation Lake books are like that for me. The first such thrill was a shout-out to the Tap Room in Ypsilanti, Michigan — the medium-sized Michigan town in which I was born and raised. It’s a bar that’s been there for decades and where I had my first bar experience. It was filled with older men gathered around tables and my friend and I never had to buy our own drinks. Why am I telling you this? Because this story epitomizes my connection to Gruley’s writing. He’s a Michigan boy writing stories in places I can picture and feel.
This is not to suggest that if you were reading this review in Alabama, Ohio or Scotland you wouldn’t enjoy this series. You might not get the full Michigan connection of Better Made chips and Greektown (and by the way, Mr. Gruley, I don’t believe 96 crosses 23 … the highway actually turns into 14 at Plymouth. I do realize that may be overly picky as that makes no difference at all in the story.). We all know these little towns and their feel. Maybe it’s not hockey that brings your small town together, but you know that feeling.
I don’t believe the point of Starvation Lake is the actual plot. We’re not rocketing from Point A to Z. We’re enjoying the ride hitting all of the letters in between and savoring them. In typical cozy fashion, the wind up was maybe a bit convenient but by the time we reach the end, we know these people well enough to know that this is what would happen in their world.
One of Gruley’s great strengths is the flavor of the past. Strohs and Ernie Harwell on the radio, what Michigan kid didn’t see that in their childhood? I wondered while reading this book if Bryan Gruley isn’t influenced by Harlan Coben. Gus is very like Myron Bolitar, not in his story style, but in the way that this character simply seems destined to live in a golden past. Gus’s memories of his parents are so rich and beautiful that his character almost seems to engineer failure for himself. Even so, he’s a true investigative reporter and too good for his local paper because he’s able to intuit his way from clue to clue in a way that the police don’t seem to feel that they should. The cops in this book are more interested in winning elections than real justice so someone has to pick up the slack.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a brilliant name Dingus Aho is for the Starvation Lake sheriff.
The Skeleton Box: A Starvation Lake Mystery is a sad story of a nun’s death and the death of a good friend to the series. Despite the sadness of loss, it’s a beautiful and warm narrative that leaves a reader feeling that the time with this novel was well spent.
The big question we’re left with is what’s next for Mr. Gruley. This book felt like a wrapping up of a series. Perhaps we’re in for much more from Mr. Gruley, and I’ll be there for the ride and, as always, take all of you with me. Read a review of Starvation Lake: A Mystery by Bryan Gruley on this site.
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